Harry took his hat off and pushed the wrinkles up his face. He knew he had to leave and in some ways he was glad. He started one way up the bus shelter then turned, not knowing what to do with all his nervous energy. They might come for him, if they dared. He would just have to show them.
Across the broad street Harry’s eyes met a tenement. His hand stretched out to the side and for a moment he stroked tenderly the chipboard in the bus shelter’s frame. He would miss it all, but he was damned if he was staying to be put under surveillance, marginalised and pigeon-holed by a bunch of sanctimonious, self-serving bastards. Evil, that’s what they were; evil and power-grabbing. Well, he’d tell the story, word was going to get out about them now that he was on the run. Perhaps he’d write a book – not just any book – his memoirs: a dangerous book. Youngsters would pass it around under tables at college and slowly the truth would surface, then they’d rue the day they chose to tangle with Harry Sutton.
He fumbled a beat-up hankie out of his pocket and used the least crusty end to wipe his eye.
An image of his mother sprang to mind, bringing a cluster of memories with it. He was six years old and sat on her knee in uncomfortable, stuffy attire. He could feel the weight of his good shoes pulling down on his toes as they dangled. His mother was brushing his hair into a side-parting and telling him what a good boy he had to be, explaining the etiquette of the place they were going to (where was it?), wooing his good nature with her dulcet voice.
Some kind of jalopy chugged up the road. At first he thought it might be the bus, but he eyed it with annoyance when he saw it was not. Where was that damn bus?
Between ‘59 and ‘63 he had driven a bus for the CIA as part of an operation to uncover meetings of crime organisations, which had been using the routes to rendezvous inconspicuously. He had been young and idealistic then; he thought that he could help to save the world – with the CIA!? Ha!
Anyway, he had only been a plant, not a real bus driver, but never in four years had he been late, so what did these young, upstart bus drivers think they were doing nowadays? It made his blood boil. The world was going to shit.
A gang of young men – hoodlums – swaggered down the street towards him and it crossed his mind that they could have been sent for him. It would be a clever way to silence him – an old man alone in a bad neighbourhood; it would look like a mugging gone wrong, there would be no suspicion.
There was no way to defend himself, he had no weapon on him. He looked about fervently. He had got out of tricky situations before, he just needed to employ his wiles.
His eyes and mind were still darting around for salvation when the gang sauntered past, paying him no attention. His gaze slyly followed them and he watched them recede up the pavement to make sure they weren’t going to double-back.
When they were gone he chastised himself. He was losing his cool. This wasn’t the dynamic Harry Sutton of the old days, he needed to get him back – now more than ever. When the shit hit the fan Harry was the man you needed – at least, that’s the way it used to be. He was still that man, wasn’t he? He could still compete with the best of them. He just needed to find that place inside of him again. He let out a few deep puffs of air and stretched his arms out until they cracked.
He watched a greasy food wrapper flip up the street in the breeze. It danced briefly with a paper cup that was rolling back and forth in the gutter, then moved on. The world was going to shit alright. He had tried his best, he had tried to do the right thing at every juncture, but what could he do in a world filled with morons? People didn’t look around them, they didn’t see the shit in which they were steeped. They just closed their eyes and did what the next man was doing, and if they didn’t? God help them! That’s why he was in this situation, people didn’t like what was different, even if it was good. Especially if it was good!
Well, that was a relief. At least he could be sure he was doing the right thing if they wanted to drag him down. It was always a good indicator. He would find somewhere where people didn’t try to silence him, where he was revered for his revolutionary behaviour. A brethren of like-minded people.
There had been a few at the safe-house, but there was too much oppression there, it was establishment run, and everything positive was done secretly and under duress. It was a diffuse resistance, that was for sure. His fellows were sorely downtrodden.
He turned and his heart leapt when he saw a little black lady waddle up the street. It was Anna. So that’s the way they were going to do it? The softly-softly approach. Anna was establishment but he liked her, she was just a small cog, not a player at all really. They shared some warmth for each other. Anna reached the bus shelter and put her hand on Harry’s.
‘Harry! There you are. What are you doing? You know that the buses don’t come here anymore. Come on, I’ll take you back.’ He looked at his shoes. Maybe the way to do things was not to cause a stink like this. Maybe it was better to go back and rouse the people at the safe-house, to subvert from within. If they were sending Anna then surely they believed in his rehabilitation and he would come to no harm. He could probably do more damage amongst them than away from them.
‘I was just getting some air,’ he said. He took her hand and they shuffled away down the pavement.